What are the mortality rates for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)?

Updated: Mar 27, 2020
  • Author: Eloise M Harman, MD; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, FAPS, MCCM  more...
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Until the 1990s, most studies reported a 40-70% mortality rate for ARDS. However, 2 reports in the 1990s, one from a large county hospital in Seattle and one from the United Kingdom, suggested much lower mortality rates, in the range of 30-40%. [9, 10] Possible explanations for the improved survival rates may be better understanding and treatment of sepsis, recent changes in the application of mechanical ventilation, and better overall supportive care of critically ill patients.

Note that most deaths in ARDS patients are attributable to sepsis (a poor prognostic factor) or multiorgan failure rather than to a primary pulmonary cause, although the recent success of mechanical ventilation using smaller tidal volumes may suggest a role of lung injury as a direct cause of death.

Mortality in ARDS increases with advancing age. A study performed in King County, Washington, found mortality rates of 24% in patients between ages 15 and 19 years and 60% in patients aged 85 years and older. The adverse effect of age may be related to underlying health status.

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